This is a follow-up to the anti-rape culture blog post. Wil Wheaton has a slogan, “Don’t be a dick.” My friend Patrick Schwisow (@PSchwisow on Twitter) had a blog post entitled “Don’t be a Chet.” Bill & Ted say, “Be excellent to each other and party on!”
So why is so damn hard for people to do these things? There are a few things that really get my dander up and all of them revolve around simple Human Rights. Sexism and the rape culture we live in is one I’ve already blogged about. This post is about bullying in general, but especially as it pertains to the vast LGBTQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning) community.
Some back story first. When I was growing up, you were either straight, gay, or confused, as far as society was concerned. Being gay was “wrong.” Being straight was “right.” Being confused just meant that you hadn’t been with the right straight partner yet. These were the values I saw around me every day. I was straight, all my friends were straight, everyone in my family was straight. Except that isn’t the actual truth. One of my friends was gay. He was in the closet, and may not have even realized it himself, but he was definitely effeminate. We teased him a lot, it was what we did. My great-uncle was gay. My family glossed over this just calling his partner his “friend.” Other types of bullying were prevalent while I was growing up as well. One friend was quite poor and while he was extremely intelligent, he had very little in the way of social skills. He was teased mercilessly being called gay (he wasn’t) and stupid (he wasn’t) and just being the butt of a lot of jokes. Another friend was a little overweight. He was teased for being fat and slow and dumb and gay. I was above average intelligence, and a bit socially awkward, and less than average income. I was teased for being a dork, geek, nerd, and dweeb. I was also called gay or queer more than once. Even in our little circle of friends we would tease each other and some got picked on more than others. I was a bully and I was bullied, we all were, inside our group and from without. We were taught by the example of those around us that this is just the way things are.
I was bullied by those around me, outside that little group of friends more than from within. And I probably teased those within more than the rest did. It was my way of trying to separate myself from them, and to be more like the popular kids. I wanted so desperately to just fit in. I wished on many occasions to just be a straight C student, to have more money, to dress better, to be good at sports, just to fit in with the cool kids. The cool kids who were the worst bullies of all. So, since I couldn’t control my grades or parents’ income, or sports talents, I joined them by being a bully to my actual friends. They (the “cool kids”) still would not accept me as one of their own, of course. They still teased and shunned me, treated me as an out cast. My actual friends, however, still accepted me, despite the bullying. Of course, inside our circle, we thought of it just as “boys will be boys” and “good-natured ribbing.” And we all did survive, and we all did grow thicker skins for it. That which did not kill us made us stronger…
But what if it had killed one of us? What if the teasing had gotten so bad that one of us had committed suicide?
Teasing and bullying is not something to be condoned or expected. It doesn’t make everyone stronger. I may have survived it, but there were several times throughout my life where I did consider suicide as a better alternative. I’m only here today to tell my story because I was too chicken to go through with it. I was not brave enough to slash my wrists or hang myself. I didn’t have access to a gun. I was too afraid that I’d fail and that pain would’ve been even worse. I did OD on over the counter medicines a few times. Once I just slept for a day or two. Once I wander the town in a daze that I don’t remember. I did crawl halfway out of my window to jump once or twice, but I lived on the second floor, so it was rather pointless. I did try to choke myself, but without the conviction of a rope, I started breathing again when I got too tired to hold on. Some of this is a part of my battle with depression and some was my battle with bullying. The two went hand in hand. Each fed into the other and made the whole thing stronger and spiral down.
I’m not bullied any longer, for the most part. I do still suffer from depression and the weight of the years is getting heavy. I keep dragging my past around with me and it just keeps accumulating.
I don’t know where this post is heading and I’ve strayed off the intended course, so I’ll wrap up with a reiteration:
“Don’t be a dick!” “Don’t be a Chet!” “Be excellent to each other!”
Ok. This is an open letter to every person on the planet. It is gender biased, written by a cisgender, straight, white male and directed primarily at the same. However, the message applies to everyone, regardless of gender, sex, preference, race, creed, or color.
You might find yourself wondering before you get to the end why I am so passionate about this subject. I can’t explain it easily, but suffice it to say that every year I hear the horror stories coming from women about their conference experiences. The stories I hear come from tech conferences and geek/fandom conferences. The most recent story I heard was from someone I’ve never met in person, but we’ve talked a lot online and I consider her among my friends. I also am a father of 4 girls and 2 boys. I don’t want to raise them into a rape culture. I do not want my sons to be a part of the problem and I don’t want my daughters to be statistics or victims. (And, honestly, since rape can happen to and by any gender, the reverse is also true. I don’t want my children to be rapists, enablers, victims, or statistics.) So I get rather enraged when I see behavior that does not adamantly condemn rape culture.
TRIGGER WARNINGS for BDSM, rape and similar concepts.
So iOS devices can’t run Flash. Newer Android devices cannot run Flash. Flash will not be supported with upgrades on Android. Can we just all, as web developers and designers, just agree to never use Flash again? Let it die?
Are the HTML5/CSS3 specs solid enough and implemented enough that we can do all that fancy stuff natively? I have seen some amazing HTML5 demonstrations.
As we move closer and closer to the reality that the Web is not consigned to desktop interaction alone, we should design all of our web sites and web applications in a Mobile forward manner. I sat through a few sessions at php|tek 2012 about the Mobile Web. Everyone said the same thing…Do not design a desktop site and scale it back for mobile. Instead, design a mobile site and scale it up for desktops (with an intermediate tablet scale.) To me, designing for mobile first also means Flash should go away. Completely. Die.
Honestly, I’ve never liked Flash anyway, but I’ve been quite grateful for some of the apps that were built with it. But the time has come to scrap them all and rebuild them with the newer technologies. Sadly, the biggest hurdle to overcome is <video>. Video is where Flash is still used very heavily. Designing a site to use HTML5 <video> is a lot more complex than just dropping in a Flash player, but honestly, even that was never easy. You had to use <embed> and <object> and reuse your params and some params weren’t supported on some browsers…HTML5 <video> is a little more daunting, because even after you do the setup for the various implementations of HTML5, you still have to use a Flash fall-back….WTF?!?!?! Why can we just let Flash die?
I say we make a stand. I say we send a message to the browsers companies, that we demand properly implemented HTML5 rendering! No more fall backs! No more fail-safes! We need to design only to the highest *current* versions of each browser. We need to stop worrying about browsers that are, by all rights, obsolete. We demand satisfaction!
If only it really were that simple, no? But it’s not. The client wants there site to usable by everyone. Even people who still use IE6 for crying out loud.
This rant brought to you by the fact that I hate making my front-end dev work a sloppy mess just to make everyone happy.
Some people are what are known as a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None.” And for some people, that’s OK. For me, the way my brain is wired, I just hear the “master of none” part and start in with my Imposter Syndrome self-pity. So I like to see it as being a “Dabbler Extraordinaire.”
WHEW! and that’s just one shortened form of my tangential ramblings. You can see why it’s hard to stay focused. I just “LOVE ALL THE THINGS!” I could start anywhere in that loop of passions, and shift to any other tangent. It doesn’t have to be a neat, clean, sequential loop like the one described above. I could easily loop in any direction, or even turn the loop into a tangled web of spaghetti…Speaking of spaghetti, have you seen the code I wrote when I was starting out in PHP….(You see what I did there?)
One thing all this passion and dabbling has lead me to is having a huge skill set and knowledge base to pull from. I can spout out facts about Doctor Who; tell you the best ISO/aperture/shutter-speed settings for the current lighting conditions, based on what you want to achieve with your shot; whip up a little PHP app; discuss the best and worst Android devices for your carrier; or do a quick improv act based on whatever situation you like; et cetera. But it has also robbed me of a truly deep understanding of anything beyond the the basics. What to know which actor has been in the most episodes of Doctor Who? No clue, look it up. Which camera is best for your needs? No clue, ask an expert. Want me to write a full, enterprise level PHP app that runs in the cloud? ACK! get a team to that shit, DAMN! Write an Android app that does more than say “Hello World.” when you shake it? Umm, ok, I’ll try…maybe I can get started next week. You can see where this is going.
I know a lot of stuff about a lot of things. For some subjects, I even do consider myself an expert. But even those subjects, my expertise is a well-rounded one, not a specific grounding or specialty.
Yes, this leads to more Imposter Syndrome in many cases, but when I take a look at how much I do know, I relax a bit. I am damn smart. I just have so much passion for so many things, that I can’t contain it all, and so, some of the fine details are likely to slip away from me.
What is “Imposter Syndrome?” Wikipedia says “[it] is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” Which is another way of saying, “I can’t believe someone is actually paying me to ___. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!” Wikipedia goes on to add “Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
You know what? It sucks! I have been developing in PHP for 13+ years. I earned my Zend Certified Engineer for PHP 5.3. This is no small accomplishment. It wasn’t just handed to me like candy. But I brush it off as easy. I say that I’m just really good at taking tests. I say that anyone could have gotten it, just from common sense. I say it must have been a fluke.
My brain won’t let me admit that I *EARNED* that certification. And me dismissing it in all those ways really does a disservice not just to myself, but to everyone else who has earned it by working their butts off, and/or studying for it. But it also can be a real slap in the face to those who have not passed the exam. So, to everyone on both sides of the ZCE coin, I’m sorry. I did work for my certification. I did earn it. I do deserve it. If you have yours, you deserve it too. If you don’t have it yet; study, learn about areas of PHP outside your standard comfort zone; you can earn it too.
Ok, I’ve owned up to my certification. I acknowledge that my current company would not have hired me, nor kept me these three years if I truly was the hack that Imposter Syndrome wants me to believe. I know that I may have kicked this in the butt for today, but I also know that it’ll come back and bite me again someday. I hope this blog post will help me remind myself that I’m not a fraud. I’m not an imposter. I do know what the fuck I’m doing. I am a PHP expert. I am not the best there is, but I *AM* damn good at it. I may not know the right place to add the logic I’m writing, or even the best way to write it, but I do know how to do it.
So, enough about me. What about you? What can you do to help yourself out a similar slump? Well, other people throwing praise at you isn’t going to do it. You won’t believe them. I didn’t. But, if you sit down and take an honest and serious look at your own accomplishments, I bet you’ll find that you aren’t an imposter after all. Find at least one thing that you have done and OWN it. Admit to yourself that you *deserve* it. Be honest with yourself. And, maybe, after that, you can get some external praise and believe it too.